The Savvy Scientist

The Savvy Scientist

Experiences of a London PhD student and beyond

Common PhD Viva Questions

PhD interview scenario

It can be pretty difficult knowing how to prepare for your PhD viva. Having successfully defended my own STEM PhD remotely in the last year, I want to help you to prepare! What follows are some common PhD viva questions which your examiners may ask you. Plus some additional advice based off my own PhD viva experience.

For an intro to the PhD viva including the typical structure and potential outcomes please see my introductory post:

  • How to Defend a Thesis: An Introduction to the PhD Viva

How Much Do You Need to Prepare For A PhD Viva?

There is no hard and fast rule for how much you need to prepare. And unlike a written exam, there are of course no past-papers to practice on!

It may help ease your mind to think about what the purpose of a PhD viva is. Namely the purpose of the PhD viva (or defence) is to check that:

  • You did the work;
  • You understand the work;
  • The research is up to the standard for a PhD.

For more detail see my separate post here including Imperial’s PhD viva mark scheme.

In hindsight I probably didn’t spend as much time preparing for my viva as is normal. Though I did unexpectedly move house less than a week before !

Besides reading through my thesis once in the few days leading up to it, I didn’t spend much time thinking up answers to questions or “revising” certain topics which could come up. The viva went fine, but it wouldn’t have done me any harm to have been a little better prepared.

It certainly helped that I’d managed to schedule a viva which took place less than six weeks after I submitted the thesis so it was all very fresh in my mind. If you submitted your thesis months before your viva I’d suggest spending slightly more time refreshing your memory in preparation for questions you may get asked.

In summary, I think it’s useful for all PhD students to get an idea of some potential lines of questioning for their oral exam!

Update: Keen to get prepared for your viva? I’ve put together a set of viva preparation worksheets which are available in the resource library. Click the image below for free access!

phd viva questions

Listed below are common PhD viva questions which I’ve roughly grouped together. We’ll start with some higher-level questions about your PhD which should be quite easy and friendly, then progress through to some more technical (and potentially unfriendly!) questions.

It is worth noting that many examiners will ask for a short presentation at the start of the viva and this could eliminate some potential questions. In this list I’ve left in the main questions I’d expect for this presentation to address, such as what future work you’d recommend.

Very few of the questions are ones you’re guaranteed to get asked, but I can assure you that you’ll get asked at least some of them!

General PhD Viva Questions – usually friendly!

These ones are simply inquisitive and you don’t really have to worry about getting caught out. The examiners are simply interested in the work and want an insight from someone who has spent the last few years working on it.

  • What is the most important finding from your PhD work?
  • What was the motivation behind this research?
  • Who is your research relevant to?
  • Which aspects of your work are you publishing? Follow on: and where?
  • What future work would you recommend?
  • What are the limitations of your research?
  • Which aspect of your work surprised you the most?
  • What are the potential applications of your PhD research?

Method-Specific Questions – mostly friendly!

These questions dive a little deeper but even so shouldn’t be too much of a cause for concern. They come down to your own judgement and as long as you justify your decicisions you’ll be fine in answering them.

  • Why did you do [things] a certain way?
  • What were the alternatives to [this certain method]?
  • Why did you test [that specific number] of samples?
  • What effect did you think changing [something in your method] would have?
  • What do you think you could have gained by using [another approach]?
  • Why did you not use [another technique]?
  • How did you deal with the ethical implications of your work?

Results & Analysis-Specific Questions – mostly friendly!

In a similar manner to the previous section about your methodology, you’ll often get some questions targeting your analysis and presentation of results.

  • What is this graphical figure illustrating?
  • Why was [this analytical technique] appropriate? Follow on: why did you use [this other technique]?
  • Which of your results do you find the most interesting?
  • How do you know that your findings are correct?

Literature Questions – may be less friendly!

This is where things may get tough if your examiners want to try and test your limits. Even so, they’ll still likely cut you some slack. If you have 100+ references it’s very possible that under the nerves of your exam you can’t remember specifics for each and every reference. Just don’t make things up. They’d rather you were honest than trying to deceive them.

  • Please explain the key findings of reference number [X]
  • Which papers would you say had the biggest impact on your work?
  • What do you think are the biggest differences between [these two previous studies]?
  • What have been the biggest advancements in the field over the last 10 years?
  • Why did you not reference [this other study]?
  • How does your work compliment the existing literature?
  • What do you think the next big advancements will be in the field?

Highly Technical Questions – potentially very unfriendly!

These are the ones I was a bit scared of getting, but it is a PhD viva after all. Of course it should be expected that you have a solid understanding of the principles that underpin your project. Even so it can be unnerving thinking of how large the range of potential questions like this can be!

Unlike at a conference or in other settings where you may be able to brush over things you’re not 100% comfortable with, there is no hiding when your examiners need to test your knowledge. Particularly when they have hours of time at their disposal to do so!

  • Explain how [a technique] works. This could be anything from sample preparation, equipment and analysis through to statistics. I’ve known people to get asked to explain things like a statistical t-test from first principles, with follow-on questions being asked with every answer to drill deeper.
  • Explain [some fundamental concept, phenomenon or principle]. Just like the last question but applied to basic-sciences. I’ve known students to get asked questions such as: explain energy (to a mechanical engineer) and explain toughness (to a materials scientist). I’m sure we can all explain these concepts to a certain level but my concern was whether or not I could explain them at a deep enough level to satisfy the examiner.

With both of these types of questions there ultimately comes a point where you (or the internal examiner ) can push back and say that answering that question was not the focus of your PhD!

What Questions I Got Asked at My Own PhD Viva

I was really surprised at my own viva how few questions I actually got in general.

The viva lasted a whopping five hours (excluding a quick break) and yet almost all of the time was spent discussing improvements to my viva to help with publishing papers.

Even so, I could have done with putting a bit more time into preparing for potential questions: which was my motivation to help you by putting together this post!

The few questions I had included:

  • If you were to do the project again would you do anything differently?
  • Clarification of what I meant by certain sentences in my thesis .

You may be wondering if I avoided getting asked deeper questions by the examiners because I already had a relationship with them so they were satisfied with my knowledge and capabilities. But I didn’t really know the examiners! I’d met my external examiner at a conference and he had seen me present but I’d never actually met my internal examiner before.

Instead, what I think did go a long way to helping was having already had something published in a respected journal.

Nevertheless, in a way I actually walked away a little unsatisfied by the lack of questioning at my PhD viva.

It was great to get so much feedback on my thesis which has already helped to get two more papers published since the viva, but I felt like it would have been nice to feel a bit more taxed and known that I could hold my own in the exam if it came down to it.

Now looking back on the viva 10 months later, I’m just happy to have the PhD done!

My Tips for Answering Common PhD Viva Questions

  • Keep calm and take your time before answering . There is no rush to answer questions. Having a sip of a drink may help provide a pause for thinking up an answer.
  • Tell the truth. If you don’t know something, just say so! It’s likely the examiners will quickly be able to tell that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Plus, there is the risk that they’ll ask deeper follow-on questions which could unravel any lies.
  • Try to enjoy the experience. Think of it as a discussion, rather than a police investigation. Your examiners are interested in the work and want to hear more about it!

If you’d like personalised help with preparing for your PhD viva I am now starting to offer a small number of one-to-one sessions. Please contact me to find out more or click here to book a call.

I hope these common PhD viva questions can help you to prepare for your own viva.

If there are other aspects of the examination you want covered, just let me know.

I have many more upcoming PhD (and beyond!) posts . I f you want to get notified about them you can subscribe here:

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Most Asked PhD Viva-Voce Questions and Answers

Check this Mosted Asked 50 PhD Viva-Voce Questions with Answers

Dr. Somasundaram R

Defending a doctoral thesis and facing viva questions is a very critical part of every research scholar. After the submission of your thesis, you will be asked to defend your research work in the “ final viva voce “.

Defending your master’s thesis in front of domain experts, co-scholars, and students is quite an interesting experience. The difficult part of the viva for every researcher is facing unexpected questions.

In this article, ilovephd provides 50 possible PhD viva questions frequently asked during the thesis Viva voce.

Mosed Asked PhD Thesis Defense Viva-Voce Questions and Answers

These are all the 50 Common Dissertation PhD Viva Questions and Sample Answers you can prepare to answer during the defense.

Thesis Title: “Understanding the Impact of Social Media Engagement on Consumer Behavior: A Mixed-Methods Approach”

1. Main Contribution:

What is the main contribution of your work.

My work offers a novel framework for analyzing social media data, enhancing understanding of online user behavior. For instance, by integrating machine learning algorithms with network analysis, we identified influential users in online communities.

2. Key Research Questions:

What are the key research questions you addressed in your dissertation.

In my dissertation , I addressed several key research questions, including how online interactions influence consumer purchasing decisions and whether social media campaigns effectively engage target audiences.

3. Study Design:

How did you design your study.

The study was designed employing a mixed-methods approach, combining surveys to gather qualitative insights with the analysis of social media data using advanced statistical techniques.

4. Data and Methods:

What data and methods did you use.

I utilized Twitter data collected through the Twitter API and analyzed public sentiment toward specific brands or products.

5. Main Findings:

What were your main findings and how do they relate to your hypothesis.

Our analysis revealed a strong correlation between user engagement with social media content and subsequent purchase behavior, supporting our hypothesis that social media plays a significant role in shaping consumer decisions.

6. Implications:

What implications does your work have for other researchers or practitioners in the field.

These findings have practical implications for marketers, suggesting the need for targeted social media strategies to effectively reach and engage potential customers.

7. Suggestions for Further Research:

What suggestions do you have for further research.

Sample Answer: Future research could explore the effectiveness of different types of social media content in driving consumer engagement and purchasing behavior.

8. Motivation:

Why did you choose this particular topic.

I chose this topic due to its relevance in today’s digital age and its potential to inform marketing strategies in a rapidly evolving online landscape.

9. Overcoming Challenges:

What motivated you during the project.

My motivation stemmed from the opportunity to contribute to an area with significant real-world implications and to advance understanding in the field of marketing research.

10. New Insights:

How did you overcome any challenges that emerged throughout the project.

Challenges were overcome through perseverance, collaboration with peers and mentors, and leveraging available resources effectively.

11. Adding Value:

What new knowledge, insights, or understanding has your research provided.

My research has provided new insights into the nuanced relationship between online engagement and consumer behavior, offering actionable insights for marketers.

12. Limitations:

How do you think your work adds value to the field.

By bridging the gap between social media data analysis and consumer psychology, my work adds significant value to the marketing field.

Also Read: How to Identify Research Gap ?

13. Fit with Existing Research:

What are the limitations of your work.

Limitations include the generalizability of findings due to sample biases inherent in social media data.

14. Utilization of Resources:

How do your results fit into the current body of research on the subject.

My results contribute to the current body of research by corroborating existing evidence and offering new perspectives.

15. Method Selection:

If you had more resources, what would you have done differently.

With more resources, I would have expanded the scope of data collection and employed more sophisticated analysis techniques to enhance the depth of insights generated.

Learn how to select a Research Method and how to Frame a Research Design: Check the following video.

16. Accuracy and Validity:

Why did you choose the particular methods you used.

The chosen methods were selected based on their appropriateness for capturing and analyzing large-scale social media data sets efficiently.

17. Applicability in Other Contexts:

How did you ensure accuracy and validity in your research.

Accuracy and validity were ensured through rigorous validation procedures, including cross-validation techniques and expert validation of sentiment analysis results.

18. Starting the Project Again:

Could your research be applied in other contexts.

Yes, my research could be applied in various contexts beyond the retail sector, such as hospitality, healthcare, or political campaigns, with potential implications for understanding online user behavior in different domains.

19. Ethical Considerations:

What would you do differently if you had to start the project again.

If starting the project again, I would prioritize establishing clearer ethical guidelines and procedures for data collection and analysis to ensure the responsible conduct of research.

20. Dissemination:

What ethical considerations did you take into account when designing your study.

Ethical considerations included ensuring user privacy, obtaining informed consent for data usage, and protecting participant confidentiality throughout the research process.

21. Unexpected Results:

How have your results been disseminated.

Results have been disseminated through academic conferences, peer-reviewed journals, and industry reports to reach diverse audiences.

22. Extension of Research:

Are there any unexpected results from your analysis, and why do you think they occurred.

Surprisingly, we found that user engagement on social media positively correlates with both online and offline purchase behavior, which may be attributed to the increasing integration of digital and traditional marketing channels in consumer decision-making processes.

23. Data Analysis Techniques:

Do you have any plans to extend or replicate your research.

Yes, plans include replicating the study across different demographic groups and geographical regions to validate the robustness and generalizability of the findings.

24. Reliability and Validity:

What techniques did you use to analyze your data.

Data analysis techniques included regression analysis, social network analysis, and sentiment analysis, chosen for their appropriateness to the nature of the data and research questions.

25. Lessons Learned:

How did you ensure the reliability and validity of your findings.

Reliability and validity were ensured through rigorous data validation procedures, including reliability checks, sensitivity analyses, and triangulation of multiple data sources.

26. Addressing Methodological Weaknesses:

What lessons can be drawn from your research.

Lessons drawn from my research include the importance of integrating quantitative and qualitative approaches to capture the complexity of online consumer behavior accurately.

27. Possibility of Contradiction:

How did you address any methodological weaknesses in your study.

Methodological weaknesses were addressed by iteratively refining the research design, improving data collection procedures, and conducting sensitivity analyses to assess the robustness of the findings.

28. Transferability of Findings:

Is there a possibility that future research may contradict your findings.

While possible, future research may challenge the findings, particularly if different data sources or analytical approaches are employed.

29. Implications for Policymakers:

How transferable are your findings.

Findings are transferable to similar contexts but should be interpreted with caution in different cultural or market settings due to potential variations in consumer behavior and social media usage patterns.

30. Recommendations:

What implications do your results have for policymakers.

Results have implications for policymakers in terms of informing regulations regarding online advertising practices, consumer protection measures, and data privacy laws.

31. Rigor and Integrity:

What recommendations would you make based on your research.

Based on my research, I recommend that policymakers consider implementing guidelines for transparent disclosure of sponsored content on social media platforms to enhance consumer trust and confidence in online advertising practices.

32. Unexplored Areas:

How did you maintain the rigor and integrity of your project.

Rigor and integrity were maintained through adherence to ethical guidelines, transparency in data collection and analysis procedures, and regular peer review of research findings.

33. Need for Further Research:

What areas remain unexplored in your field.

Unexplored areas in the field include the long-term effects of social media engagement on brand loyalty, customer retention, and the role of emotional content in driving user engagement and purchase behavior.

34. Validity of Results:

Do you think further research is needed in your area of study.

Yes, further research is needed to validate the findings across diverse populations, cultural contexts, and industry sectors to ensure the robustness and generalizability of the conclusions.

35. Time Constraints:

How valid do you think your results are.

I believe the results are valid, supported by rigorous data analysis procedures, triangulation of multiple data sources, and alignment with existing theoretical frameworks and empirical evidence.

36. Accurate Data Representation:

Would you have done anything differently if you had more time.

With more time, I might have conducted additional validation studies to strengthen the reliability and validity of the findings further, as well as explored alternative analytical approaches to corroborate the results.

37. Answering Research Questions:

How did you make sure you accurately represented the data collected.

Accurate data representation was ensured through careful data cleaning, validation procedures, and transparency in reporting the research findings to minimize biases and errors.

38. Applicability in Other Contexts:

How did you ensure the research question was answered.

The research question was answered through systematic data collection, rigorous analysis, and interpretation of the findings about the research objectives and hypotheses.

39. Possibility of Unendorsed Implications:

Are there any possible implications of your research that you don’t endorse.

While unlikely, possible implications that I don’t endorse include deterministic interpretations of causality between social media engagement and consumer behavior, as other factors may also influence purchase decisions.

40. Strengths and Weaknesses:

What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of your research.

The strengths of my research include innovative methodology, robust data analysis techniques, and practical implications for marketers. Weaknesses include potential sample biases inherent in social media data and limitations in generalizability to offline consumer behavior.

41. Wider Community Implications:

What implications do your findings have for the wider community.

Findings offer valuable insights for marketers, policymakers, and researchers seeking to understand and leverage online consumer behavior effectively in various industries and societal contexts.

42. Useful Learnings:

What have you learned from your research that could be useful for others.

From my research, others can learn the importance of integrating user-generated content analysis into marketing strategies to enhance consumer engagement and inform decision-making processes.

43. Alignment with Literature:

How well do your findings match with the literature in the field.

My findings align well with existing literature on the influence of social media on consumer behavior, extending previous research by providing empirical evidence and theoretical insights into the mechanisms underlying online user engagement and purchase behavior.

44. Undiscussed Implications:

Are there any implications of your research that you haven’t discussed.

While extensively discussed, some implications, such as the role of emotional content in driving engagement and the potential impact of social media on brand loyalty, warrant further exploration in future studies.

45. Unresolved Issues:

Are there any unresolved issues that require further research.

Yes, unresolved issues include the long-term effects of social media engagement on brand loyalty, customer retention, and the effectiveness of different types of social media content in driving consumer engagement and purchase behavior.

46. Conclusions:

What can you conclude based on your research.

In conclusion, my research demonstrates the significant impact of social media engagement on consumer purchasing decisions, highlighting the need for targeted marketing strategies in the digital age to effectively engage and influence online audiences.

47. Contradictory Evidence:

Is there any evidence that contradicts your findings.

While limited, contradictory evidence may arise from studies employing different methodologies or focusing on distinct population groups, underscoring the need for further research to validate and contextualize the findings.

48. Resource Utilization:

What would you have done differently if you had more resources.

With more resources, I would have invested in longitudinal studies to track changes in consumer behavior over time and conducted experiments to test the effectiveness of different social media strategies in influencing user engagement and purchase behavior.

49. Applicability in Other Contexts:

How applicable are your findings to other contexts.

Findings are applicable beyond the retail sector, with potential implications for industries such as hospitality, healthcare, or political campaigns, where online user engagement and consumer behavior are also critical factors influencing decision-making processes.

50. Responsible Conduct:

How did you ensure that the research was conducted responsibly.

The research was conducted responsibly through adherence to ethical guidelines, transparency in data collection and analysis procedures, and regular peer review of research findings to ensure rigor and integrity in the research process.

I hope this article will help you to know the various PhD Viva-Voce Questions and sample Answers that are mostly asked during the final defense. All the best for your Thesis Defence. Happy Researching!

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Dr. Somasundaram R

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How to survive a PhD viva: 17 top tips

Just handed in your PhD thesis? Now it’s time to plan for the next hurdle: a viva. Academics offer their advice on how to best prepare

  • Finishing your PhD thesis: tips from those in the know
  • The key to a successful PhD thesis? Write in your own voice
  • PhD: so what does it really stand for?

H anding in your PhD thesis is a massive achievement – but it’s not the end of the journey for doctoral students. Once you’ve submitted, you’ll need to prepare for the next intellectually-gruelling hurdle: a viva.

This oral examination is a chance for students to discuss their work with experts. Its formal purpose is to ensure that there’s no plagiarism involved, and that the student understands and can explain their thesis. It involves lots of penetrating questions, conceptually complex debates and is infamously terrifying.

How can PhD students best prepare? We asked a number of academics and recent survivors for their tips.

Preparing for the viva

1) Check your institution’s policies and practices

Institutional policies and practices vary. Find out who will attend your viva (eg will a supervisor attend, will there be an independent chair?) and what their roles are. Penny Tinkler and Carolyn Jackson, authors of The Doctoral Examination process: A Handbook for Students, Examiners and Supervisors

2) Re-read your thesis – and keep up-to-date with research

Don’t underestimate the amount of time the examiners will have spent reading and thinking about your thesis – however, you should remember that you are still likely to be the “expert in the room” on this particular topic. Check to see if any relevant recent papers have emerged since submitting the thesis and, if so, read these. Dianne Berry, dean of postgraduate research studies, University of Reading

3) As an examiner, you tend to stick to things you’re an expert in when driving the questioning

Your viva panel will consist of an external expertise in your subject area and an internal which may be in a subject field associated or directly related to yours. The external examiner is the one who mainly calls and fires all the shots and so it’s pretty important to have a knowledge of their published contributions, especially those that are related to your thesis in any way. Dr Bhavik Anil Patel, senior lecturer in physical and analytical chemistry

4) Think about what you will or won’t defend

Consider carefully what you will defend to the hilt in the viva, and what you are prepared to concede. It’s important to defend your claims about the originality of the thesis and its contribution to knowledge. However, no research is perfect, and showing that you have considered what could have been done differently, or even better, is not a bad thing. Penny Tinkler and Carolyn Jackson, authors of The Doctoral Examination process: A Handbook for Students, Examiners and Supervisors

5) Draw up lists of possible questions – especially ones you dread

I collected questions from a bunch of different places ( listed here ) which I then tailored to my PhD. Somebody I worked with also recommended that I put together my 10 nightmare questions. I found this really useful, by writing down and thinking about my dreaded questions, they were no longer so bad – it was almost as if I’d faced the beast.

Generally speaking, I was able to predict the questions that I was asked. There were a couple that were unexpected but they were either conceptual points or based on literature that I just didn’t know. Richard Budd, research assistant, University of Bristol who sat his viva in summer 2014 and has blogged about the experience

6) It’s not like sitting at a laptop where you can edit a sentence as you go along

By the time you finish your PhD you’ll know your thesis inside out. One of the things you won’t be as practised at is talking about it. When I was preparing for my viva, I practised vocalising answers. It’s not a case of needing to learn to answers verbatim – this would only work as a technique if you could guarantee the exact way your examiner will ask a question – but it is about thinking about how you will articulate certain things. A viva isn’t like sitting at a laptop where you can edit a sentence as you go along. Richard Budd, research assistant, University of Bristol who sat his viva in summer 2014 and has blogged about the experience

7) Bring a printed copy that is exactly the same as that of your examiners

Ensure you and your supervisor have a printed copy that is exactly the same as that of your examiners (specifically the same pagination). Mark with tabs the key sections and highlight for reference important quotes and points you might want to refer to. If you have some key diagrams it may help to have these printed larger on A4 sheets that can be used in a discussion.

There is a chance, albeit slim, that an examiner will wish to see some piece of experimental data, software, or other supporting evidence. Have this all neatly archived and accessible. You can do this after submission. Anthony Finkelstein, dean of the UCL faculty of engineering sciences who has blogged about surviving vivas

During the viva

8) Get off to a good start

Give a few detailed answers in the opening 15 minutes, demonstrating knowledge, describing your thinking and working - then the examiners are likely to relax into the viva. If the first few answers are short and non-specific, not demonstrating knowledge, this can begin to raise concerns, and that can set the tone for the whole viva. This is avoidable. Rowena Murray, author of How to Survive Your Viva: Defending a Thesis in an Oral Examination

9) Prepare for the icebreaker

Every viva opens with that dreaded icebreaker that is supposed to break you in gently but often seems to be the thing that gets students into a pickle. It’s so basic, students almost forget about it. Most often this would be to give a five to 10 minute introduction to your work and your key findings. This is such a common question that not preparing for it would be silly. Dr Bhavik Anil Patel, senior lecturer in physical and analytical chemistry

10) Silence doesn’t mean bad news

Don’t assume that you will be given any indication of the outcome at the start of the viva. The examiners may or may not offer comments on the thesis at this stage and candidates should not interpret a lack of comments at this point as a negative sign. In some cases institutional policy prohibits it. Penny Tinkler and Carolyn Jackson, authors of The Doctoral Examination process: A Handbook for Students, Examiners and Supervisors

11) Don’t point out your own weaknesses

Avoid shooting yourself in the foot by highlighting the weaknesses in the thesis by being overly humble (eg “I didn’t think this would be an acceptable piece of research given the way I handled x or y”) or by saying what you “failed to achieve” or “did not manage to carry out in a robust manner” etc. Leave that to the examiners to pick up in their reading, they don’t need help. Dr Mariana Bogdanova, lecturer in management, Queen’s University Belfast

12) Don’t talk like a politician There’s a danger of trying to over-prepare. Don’t learn answers off by heart – it removes the spontaneity and is obvious to examiners. If a student has pre-prepared answers they become a bit like politicians, answering questions they weren’t asked rather than the ones they were. I have come across mixed views on mock vivas. Some people really like them – and they can settle nerves – but other times it can remove spontaneity and steal your thunder. Jerry Wellington, head of research degrees at University of Sheffield and author of Succeeding with Your Doctorate

13) You may need to move from friendly questions to complex debates

Vivas can appear friendly and then suddenly go very conceptually complex. The language used is an alternation between accessible normal language and really specialised arguments. The student needs to be able to move orally between the two. Gina Wisker, professor of higher education and contemporary literature at Brighton University

14) If things get on top of you, use the excuse of having a look at the thesis

Make sure that before the viva you get plenty of sleep, eat properly and de-stress. If things get too much when you’re in there, use the excuse of having to look something up in your thesis. You could also pause and say “Can I write that down for a moment?” Stall for time until you get yourself back together again. Gina Wisker, professor of higher education and contemporary literature at Brighton University

15) Focus on your contribution

One of the most important things that the examiners will be looking for in your thesis, is the “contribution to knowledge”. It is the contribution which makes your work doctoral level. Be sure that you understand exactly what your contribution is, and that you are able to express and explain it clearly and concisely.

Write it down in a paragraph. Discuss it with you supervisor and fellow students. Make sure that you can relate your contribution to other work in your field and that you are able to explain how your work is different. Peter Smith, author of The PhD Viva

16) Expect your viva to last between one and three hours

Students frequently ask how long the viva is likely to be. Obviously they vary. Discipline differences are important. Our research suggests that most natural and applied sciences vivas were completed in one to three hours, whereas arts, humanities and social science vivas were typically less than two hours long. In the natural and applied sciences 43% of vivas lasted two hours or less, compared to 83% in arts, humanities and social sciences. Penny Tinkler and Carolyn Jackson, authors of The Doctoral Examination Process: A Handbook for S tudents, Examiners and Supervisors

17) Enjoy it

The best advice I ever got was “Try to enjoy it”. It seemed ludicrous at the time, but I actually found myself really getting into the discussion as the viva went on. It’s one of the earliest chances you get to talk to someone who not only informed your research (ideally) but is also conversant with your own. It’s a great chance to explore the contours of your research – treat it as such, and it doesn’t seem quite so daunting. Michael James Heron, school of computing science and digital media, Robert Gordon University

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Top 10 Ph.D. Viva Questions and How to Answer Them

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Every doctoral candidate will complete the Ph.D. viva to defend a thesis and seek that coveted doctorate degree. You've worked hard throughout your academic career, and now you face this intimidating meeting! Before your viva, you might feel nervous, picturing yourself tap dancing as fast as you can in front of a firing squad. But your viva should feel more like a confident performance of your crowning research for an audience of adoring fans. Take a breath—you've done good work, and soon the committee will see that, too.

What is a Ph.D. viva? In this case, viva is short for viva voce, Latin for "living voice." The term refers to contexts in which responses to something are given out loud for people to hear, for example a real-time vote (all in favor, say "aye"!). In the academic context, the Ph.D. viva is a discussion between you (the Ph.D. candidate) and a panel of academic experts, during which you present your Ph.D. thesis. The panel of experts can include an internal and/or external examiner, your Ph.D. supervisor, and other people you can request to be in attendance, like your family members.

The examiner's main purpose is to determine that you've written your own thesis and ask you some probing questions about the work you've done. It's intended to be an open, frank conversation about your research, not an interrogation. Don't be afraid to challenge points your examiner makes if they don't align with what you've found in your study. Your expertise and passion about your work will demonstrate that you know your stuff and care deeply about it.

Of course, in order to think clearly and objectively about the subject you've been immersed in for months, you will need a healthy dose of confidence. To help you gain that confidence to make your viva a positive experience, preparation is key. Here are some prompts and questions you might be asked and how you can prepare beforehand to answer them.

1. Tell us about your study

Usually the first question is an opener and is asked with the goal of breaking the ice and getting you talking about your thesis. The items the panel presents to you will start broad and get more specific and involved as your viva progresses. Since you're here to talk about your project, give a good overview of who you are, your history in the field, and the process you followed in your study. You will have a lot of potential detail to provide, but since you won't know how much your panel is looking for, prepare synopses of different lengths: 1-minute, 3-minute, and 5-minute summaries.

2. What are your main research questions and why did you select them?

You'll very likely be prompted to talk about your research questions in detail, so be prepared to list the questions you set out to answer and the motivation behind selecting each one. Also, be prepared to discuss your aims, objectives, and hypotheses, just in case they ask about those as well.

3. What original contribution has your thesis made to this field of study?

Before you began your study, you probably looked at the gaps in the existing literature and decided on a research direction to fill those gaps. Now that you've finished your research, tell your panel what the world knows now as a result of your work. When future researchers delve into your subject matter, what will they cite you on?

4. Whose work has most influenced yours?

Because you went through the process of determining what your field of study still needs in terms of research and the kind of analysis that will contribute to it, you possess a pretty clear understanding of what has already been done. A lot of that knowledge comes from your academic journey leading up to the awarding of your doctorate, during which you've read a lot of papers and delved into the work that has been done before yours. Talk about the most influential works you've encountered. This can be a work that inspired you or papers that you felt were done poorly and motivated you to get it right. Bonus: The chair of the viva will be someone who knows a lot about your field, so take some time to get familiar with his or her work. Don't be a stalker, but be prepared to mention that you know what he or she has done. Not only will that demonstrate that you've prepared yourself for your presentation, but it will also show an interest in his or her life's work, which can't hurt. Don't spend too long on this, though—you're here primarily to talk about your work, not theirs.

5. What are the strengths and weaknesses of your thesis?

You certainly want to brag about your thesis and offer reasons why you and your work are great, so don't hold back about what went right. Start with the strengths; outline your main findings and give reasons why your study enabled you to uncover them. Then, while it might feel counterintuitive to point out the ways that your thesis isn't the greatest ever, a report about the weaknesses of your research shows a sense of self-awareness and humility that benefits your study in that it paves the way for future researchers and shows that you aren't blind to your own potential for growth. If you prepare your response to this question before your viva, you can craft your response to show that you have already thought about the ways you can address the weaknesses of your thesis.

6. What ethical considerations did you apply?

Most Ph.D. candidates encounter ethical issues during the course of their research, and the committee might want to know whether you took measures to ensure an ethical project. Did you follow any ethical protocols in gathering data? Did you provide informed consent to participants in your study? What are the ethical implications of your work?

7. Did your study go as expected? If you had to start the thesis again, what would you do differently?

Every researcher has at least some idea of what he or she might find upon performing a study. Many form research questions and perform the study to provide support for that expected outcome, but sometimes the research leads to a different result. Consider what your own expectations were before you began and the path your research process took, either in alignment with that expectation or not. Knowing what you know now, would you change anything about your research? Would you approach the process differently? Maybe you would forego a step or two knowing that it wasn't as consequential or helpful as you originally thought.

8. Now that you've completed your study, what did you enjoy about the process?

Ph.D. thesis examiners are looking for a candidate who is passionate about the work. Remember that they know exactly how stressful the process is, so avoid delving into the hardships you encountered. Instead, give a summary of the high points and the reasons you were excited to keep going. While you should keep the tone professional and avoid gushing, feel free to talk about your personal motivation for pursuing this study.

9. If funding was no object, how would you follow up on this project?

Every researcher faces limits regarding the scope of a study that prevent them from gathering as much data as they'd like. Time limits, budget caps, and lack of interest or willingness among study participants can all put a damper on the dreams a researcher has for an analysis. Money can solve most obstacles within an examination, so dream big—what could you make happen with an infinite budget? This is another question that reveals your passion for the subject.

10.What are your plans for the future?

Questions might not be limited to your thesis, so give some thought to where you will go from here. Describe your plans for your future research or professional pursuits; this gives the panel a sense of your passion for the work and sets you apart from a doctoral candidate who is just trying to check the boxes and get a diploma in hand.

The questions your panel asks you on the day of your viva will probably not be exactly the ones listed in this article, but these topics will almost certainly be covered during the discussion with your examiner. If you prepare responses to these questions and make sure you know your thesis inside and out, you will be much more ready to answer whatever the experts ask you. Equally important, planning out your responses will also help calm your nerves before this very important event, so give yourself the gift of preparation as you anticipate your Ph.D. viva. Good luck—you'll do great!

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Amplifying The Voices Of PhD Students

Viva Question Repository

Viva Question Repository PhD Voice

This is a repository of questions that were asked at Vivas of students, just like you.

Look up what questions you can expect in your Viva! Don’t get caught off-guard.

(Pro tip: Want to sort by more than one heading? Hold shift and click the headings you want to sort by.)

Did you have your Viva already?

Be a lamb, use the form below to add some of the questions you had and help other Ph.D. students out! 🙂

Add your questions even if they’re already in the list above because the more often a question pops up in the list above, the more PhD students will know which questions are more likely to be asked and which are not!

How To Us The Repository:

Use it to prepare for your Viva/Defense.

There are a bunch of various categories that you can search through.

You can use the search bar, or simply click on one of the category’s headers to order the rows A-Z or Z-A. You can sort by more than one column by holding shift while clicking the desired headers.

There are bound to be duplicate questions in the Repository, which tells you a little about how likely that type of question is to come up.

All the best!

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phd viva questions

How to Excel in Your Doctoral Viva

  • © 2022
  • Stacey Bedwell 0 ,
  • Isabelle Butcher 1

Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, UK

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

  • Explains what the viva is, how the process works, and what the purpose of the viva is
  • Explores the course of preparing for a viva examination, focusing on organisation through to dealing with viva concerns
  • Features contributions from over 25 academics for a unique insight into the experiences of PhD candidates and examiners

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Table of contents (11 chapters)

Front matter, introduction.

  • Stacey Bedwell, Isabelle Butcher

What Is the Viva?

Isabelle Butcher

Urban Myths about the PhD Viva

Stacey Bedwell

Real Viva Experiences

Making the most of and enjoying your viva, after the viva, practice questions, being confident in your thesis, the viva preparation timeline, participating in a mock viva, viva concerns, back matter.

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About this book

— Sarah Lloyd , final year PhD candidate

— Gemini Katwa , PhD candidate

Authors and Affiliations

About the authors.

Dr. Isabelle Butcher  was awarded her PhD in Psychology in 2021 from the University of Manchester, UK, for her work on the negative symptoms of schizophrenia and traumatic life events. Isabelle’s current research interests are in the area of adolescent mental health and the impact of traumatic life events. Isabelle also has a keen interest in the ethics of research and is currently chair of an NHS ethics research committee.

Bibliographic Information

Book Title : How to Excel in Your Doctoral Viva

Authors : Stacey Bedwell, Isabelle Butcher

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-10172-4

Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan Cham

eBook Packages : Education , Education (R0)

Copyright Information : The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2022

Softcover ISBN : 978-3-031-10171-7 Published: 16 September 2022

eBook ISBN : 978-3-031-10172-4 Published: 15 September 2022

Edition Number : 1

Number of Pages : XIII, 183

Number of Illustrations : 69 b/w illustrations

Topics : Science Education , Higher Education , Psychology, general

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phd viva questions

  • PhD Viva Voces – A Complete Guide
  • Doing a PhD
  • A PhD viva involves defending your thesis in an oral examination with at least two examiners.
  • The aim of a PhD viva is to confirm that the work is your own , that you have a deep understanding of your project and, overall, that you are a competent researcher .
  • There are no standard durations, but they usually range from one to three hours, with most lasting approximately two hours .
  • There are six outcomes of a PhD viva: (1) pass without corrections (2) pass subject to minor corrections, (3) pass subject to major corrections, (4) downgrade to MPhil with no amendments, (5) downgrade to MPhil subject to amendments, (6) immediate fail.
  • Almost all students who sit their viva pass it, with the most common outcome being ‘(2) – pass subject to minor corrections’.

What Is a PhD Viva?

A viva voce , more commonly referred to as ‘viva’, is an oral examination conducted at the end of your PhD and is essentially the final hurdle on the path to a doctorate. It is the period in which a student’s knowledge and work are evaluated by independent examiners.

In order to assess the student and their work around their research question, a viva sets out to determine:

  • you understand the ideas and theories that you have put forward,
  • you can answer questions about elements of your work that the examiners have questions about,
  • you understand the broader research in your field and how your work contributes to this,
  • you are aware of the limitations of your work and understand how it can be developed further,
  • your work makes an original contribution, is your own and has not been plagiarised.

Note: A viva is a compulsory procedure for all PhD students, with the only exception being when a PhD is obtained through publication as opposed to the conventional route of study.

Who Will Attend a Viva?

In the UK, at least two examiners must take part in all vivas. Although you could have more than two examiners, most will not in an attempt to facilitate a smoother questioning process.

One of the two examiners will be internal, i.e. from your university, and the other will be external, i.e. from another university. Regardless, both will be knowledgeable in your research field and have read your thesis beforehand.

In addition to your two examiners, two other people may be present. The first is a chairperson. This is an individual who will be responsible for monitoring the interview and for ensuring proper conduct is followed at all times. The need for an external chairperson will vary between universities, as one of the examiners can also take on this role. The second is your supervisor, whose attendance is decided upon by you in agreement with your examiners. If your supervisor attends, they are prohibited from asking questions or from influencing the outcome of the viva.

To avoid any misunderstandings, we have summarised the above in a table:

Note: In some countries, such as in the United States, a viva is known as a ‘PhD defense’ and is performed publicly in front of a panel or board of examiners and an open audience. In these situations, the student presents their work in the form of a lecture and then faces questions from the examiners and audience which almost acts as a critical appraisal.

How Long Does a Viva Last?

Since all universities have different guidelines , and since all PhDs are unique, there are no standard durations. Typically, however, the duration ranges from one to three hours, with most lasting approximately two hours.

Your examiners will also influence the duration of your viva as some will favour a lengthy discussion, while others may not. Usually, your university will consult your examiners in advance and notify you of the likely duration closer to the day of your viva.

What Happens During a Viva?

Regardless of the subject area, all PhD vivas follow the same examination process format as below.

Introductions

You will introduce yourselves to each other, with the internal examiner normally introducing the external examiner. If an external chairperson is present, they too are introduced; otherwise, this role will be assumed by one of the examiners.

Procedure Explained

After the introductions, the appointed chair will explain the viva process. Although it should already be known to everyone, it will be repeated to ensure the viva remains on track during the forthcoming discussion.

Warm-Up Questions

The examiners will then begin the questioning process. This usually starts with a few simple opening questions, such as asking you to summarise your PhD thesis and what motivated you to carry out the research project.

In-Depth Questions

The viva questions will then naturally increase in difficulty as the examiners go further into the details of your thesis. These may include questions such as “What was the most critical decision you made when determining your research methodology ?”, “Do your findings agree with the current published work?” and “How do your findings impact existing theories or literature? ”. In addition to asking open-ended questions, they will also ask specific questions about the methodology, results and analysis on which your thesis is based.

Closing the Viva

Once the examiners are satisfied that they have thoroughly evaluated your knowledge and thesis, they will invite you to ask any questions you may have, and then bring the oral examination to a close.

What Happens After the Viva?

Once your viva has officially ended, your examiners will ask you to leave the room so that they can discuss your performance. Once a mutual agreement has been reached, which can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, you will be invited back inside and informed of your outcome.

PhD Viva Outcomes

There are six possible outcomes to a viva:

  • Immediate award of degree: A rare recommendation – congratulations, you are one of the few people who completely satisfied your examiners the first time around. You do not have to do anything further at this point.
  • Minor amendments required: The most common recommendation – you obtain a pass on the condition that you make a number of minor amendments to your thesis, such as clarifying certain points and correcting grammatical errors. The time you have to make these changes depends on the number of them, but is usually one to six months.
  • Major amendments required: A somewhat uncommon recommendation – you are requested to make major amendments to your thesis, ranging from further research to collecting more data or rewriting entire sections. Again, the time you have to complete this will depend on the number of changes required, but will usually be six months to one year. You will be awarded your degree once your amended thesis has been reviewed and accepted.
  • Immediate award of MPhil: An uncommon recommendation – your examiners believe your thesis does not meet the standard for a doctoral degree but meets the standard for an MPhil (Master of Philosophy), a lower Master’s degree.
  • Amendments required for MPhil: A rare recommendation – your examiners believe your thesis does not meet the standard for a doctoral degree, but with several amendments will meet the standard for an MPhil.
  • Immediate fail: A very rare recommendation – you are given an immediate fail without the ability to resubmit and without entitlement to an MPhil.

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

What Is the Pass Rate for Vivas?

Based on an  analysis of 26,076 PhD students  who took their viva exam between 2006 and 2017, the PhD viva pass rate in the UK is 96%; of those who passed, about 80% were required to make minor amendments to their thesis. The reason for this high pass rate is that supervisors will only put their students forward for a viva once they confidently believe they are ready for it. As a result, most candidates who sit a viva are already well-versed in their PhD topic before they even start preparing for the exam.

How Do I Arrange a Viva?

Your viva will be arranged either by the examiners or by the chairperson. The viva will be arranged at least one to two months after you have submitted your thesis and will arrange a viva date and venue that is suitable for all participants.

Can I Choose My Examiners?

At most universities, you and your supervisor will choose the internal and external examiners yourselves. This is because the examiners must have extensive knowledge of the thesis topic in order to be able to examine you and, as the author of the thesis in question, who else could better determine who they might be than you and your supervisor. The internal examiner is usually quite easy to find given they will be from your institution, but the external examiner may end up being your second or third preference depending on availability.

Can I Take Notes Into a Viva?

A viva is about testing your competence, not your memory. As such, you are allowed to take notes and other supporting material in with you. However, keep in mind that your examiners will not be overly impressed if you constantly have to refer to your notes to answer each question. Because of this, many students prefer to take an annotated copy of their thesis, with important points already highlighted and key chapters marked with post-it notes.

In addition to an annotated copy of a thesis, some students also take:

  • a list of questions they would like to ask the examiners,
  • notes that were created during their preparation,
  • a list of minor corrections they have already identified from their viva prep work.

How Do I Prepare for a PhD Viva?

There are several ways to prepare for a PhD viva, one of the most effective being a mock viva voce examination . This allows you to familiarise yourself with the type of viva questions you will be asked and identify any weak areas you need to improve. They also give you the opportunity to practise without the pressure, giving you more time to think about your answers which will help to make sure that you know your thesis inside out. However, a mock viva exam is just one of many methods available to you – some of the other viva preparation methods can be found on our “ How to Prepare for a PhD Viva ” page.

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Top 18 PhD Viva Questions | Examples

The PhD viva is an oral assessment held by a committee during the PhD defense. This evaluation involves the committee posing inquiries to the PhD candidate regarding their research work and dissertation.

The candidate must showcase their expertise in the field and how it relates to their project’s focus. The primary aim of the PhD viva is to ascertain if the candidate has fulfilled the criteria for obtaining their degree.

This article explores the PhD viva questions, provides 18 sample questions, and offers advice on responding to them effectively.

  • Table of Contents

A PhD viva, also known as a viva voce, is the concluding assessment where a candidate addresses inquiries posed by an academic committee regarding their completed work and understanding of their chosen field.

It serves to evaluate whether the candidate has effectively shown their comprehension of their specific research domain to produce original contributions.

The questions asked during a PhD viva typically come from the candidate’s original work proposal and other submitted written materials.

Types of PhD Viva Questions

Examiners typically prepare a set of questions for candidates to address during the PhD viva voce exam. These questions primarily center around the candidate’s thesis.

However, the questions asked in PhD viva exams can generally be categorized into four main areas:

  • General Questions
  • Research Context and Methods
  • Analysis and Findings
  • Discussions and Conclusion/Implications

Therefore, as you prepare for your PhD viva and defend your thesis, it’s crucial to consider the types of questions you might encounter.

This preparation allows you to practice your responses beforehand, ensuring you are not caught off guard during the viva.

Preparing and practicing your responses to questions from these four fundamental categories will significantly help in your preparation efforts.

Frequently Asked Questions for PhD Vivas and How to Answer to Them

While focusing on addressing frequently asked questions may seem straightforward, it’s crucial to prepare for potential follow-up questions. Nervousness can sometimes cause digressions, leading to unexpected inquiries from examiners in areas that may not have been anticipated.

The expectation isn’t for you to simply repeat your thesis. Examiners want to assess your understanding of the research, including its methods, analysis, findings, conclusions, implications, and other relevant aspects.

You should be ready to answer these common questions logically, despite the differences in each PhD viva.

Here are some popular PhD viva questions to prepare for:

 1. Tell me about yourself

Introduce yourself by discussing your research interests, emphasizing the areas that you feel strongly positive about. Mention your past accomplishments briefly and professionally, avoiding any tone of boasting or overwhelming the examiners.

I’m someone who’s deeply passionate about research, particularly in areas where I can make a meaningful impact. My main areas of interest revolve around [specific fields or topics], where I believe there’s immense potential for innovation and discovery. I approach research with a positive mindset, always looking for new insights and solutions to complex problems.

Throughout my academic journey, I’ve had the privilege of contributing to various research projects that have broadened my perspectives and honed my skills. These experiences have taught me the value of collaboration, critical thinking, and perseverance in the research process.

I’m particularly proud of [mention specific achievement or accomplishment], as it demonstrates my ability to navigate challenges and deliver results in a methodical and efficient manner. However, I also recognize that there’s always room for growth and learning in research, and I’m excited about the opportunities ahead to further contribute to the field.

Overall, I approach research with professionalism, enthusiasm, and a commitment to excellence, and I’m eager to continue exploring new avenues of inquiry and making meaningful contributions to the academic community.

2. Why did you choose this research question?

Examiners are interested in hearing specific details about why you are interested in a research topic, including the most captivating aspect, why you chose this research question over others in the same or related field, and any instances that influenced your selection of the research topic and field. It’s essential to plan your answer with these details in mind to provide a comprehensive response.

I chose this research question because it’s really important and can make a big difference in dealing with [specific issue or gap] in [field or discipline]. After looking at different research options, I found this question to be very interesting because it could add a lot to what we already know and help solve real problems. Also, it fits well with what I’ve studied before and what I’m interested in, so I can use my skills and knowledge to explore and solve problems in this area.

3. How did you come up with the idea for this research?

In explaining how you developed your research idea, demonstrate to the viva panel that you thoroughly evaluated all potential research options before choosing the one that optimized your time and resources. Provide specifics about your decision-making process, including why certain ideas were rejected in favor of others and the insights gained from exploring each possibility. This showcases your ability to narrow down options based on factors like feasibility.

I came up with the idea for this research through [specific process or inspiration, such as literature review, personal experience, academic discussions, etc.]. This process involved evaluating various research areas and identifying gaps or opportunities that led to the formulation of the research’s idea.

4. What is your research’s main area of focus?

Keep in mind that your response should not summarize your research but instead discuss the primary focus area of your research. Crucially, to showcase the viability of your research, it’s important to highlight some of the key questions it tackles.

The primary focus area of my research revolves around [specific topic or field], addressing key questions related to [core concepts or issues] within this domain.

5. What methods will you use to evaluate the effectiveness of your research?

To showcase to the viva panel that you have effectively evaluated your research’s effectiveness, contemplate utilizing both qualitative and quantitative measures. Qualitative measures encompass surveys and various data collection techniques that enable you to delve into the fundamental causes of issues, making them suitable for understanding people’s perceptions and sentiments regarding a subject. Quantitative measures involve numerical comparisons across different time frames or locations, such as sales data, providing a comprehensive perspective on performance trends over time. Utilizing these approaches demonstrates to the panel your thorough assessment of the research’s impact.

I will use [specific methods, such as surveys, experiments, interviews, data analysis, etc.] to evaluate the effectiveness of my research. These methods are chosen based on their ability to gather relevant data, analyze findings, and draw meaningful conclusions that address the research objectives and hypotheses.

6. Did the research process proceed as planned, or did you encounter any unexpected circumstances?

The purpose of the question about project execution in a PhD viva is to assess readiness with backup plans for unforeseen situations and to evaluate if the project adhered to the structured plan. It’s important to mention if assistance was received and be prepared for follow-up questions from examiners.

My research mostly went as planned, following the timeline and methods outlined in the proposal. Yet, there were times when unexpected things happened. I had to adjust and use backup plans to deal with these situations quickly, so they didn’t disrupt my research much.

7. What is the future of your research?

When addressing the future of your research area in your viva, it’s crucial to go beyond the current state and consider upcoming developments. Simply focusing on the present might suggest a limited understanding. Instead, provide a comprehensive response by discussing your vision for the research area’s future, its connection to the present, and its significance.

The future of my research involves exploring emerging trends and advancements in [specific area or field], leveraging new technologies and methodologies to address complex challenges. I plan to collaborate with experts in related disciplines, conduct further experiments or surveys, and analyze additional datasets to deepen our understanding of [research topic]. Ultimately, I aim to contribute novel insights and practical solutions that can benefit [target audience or community] and advance the overall knowledge in this field.

8. What are some limitations of your thesis?

If you’re asked about the limitations of your thesis during your PhD viva, ensure your response is clear and concise. To prepare, consider aspects that might be perceived as limitations and address these questions:

  • Why is this considered a limitation?
  • How could it be improved or made more effective?
  • What changes could be made to the research design or data collection methods to address this?
  • Are there potential solutions or enhancements that could mitigate this issue?

Some limitations of my thesis include [specific limitations, such as sample size constraints, data availability, potential biases, etc.]. These limitations are considered because [explain why each limitation is relevant]. To improve these limitations, potential strategies could include [suggestions for improvement, such as expanding the sample size, using additional data sources, addressing biases through robust methodologies, etc.]. These enhancements aim to strengthen the overall validity and reliability of the research findings.

9. Is this work original, or have others done something similar before?

When addressing whether your work is original or if others have conducted similar research before, it’s important to distinguish between your original contributions and existing research. You can then elaborate on how you’ve built upon previous work to develop your own ideas. If there are no entirely original aspects, consider discussing aspects of your research that are not yet published but have potential for further development. This approach can provide the panel with insights into the new ideas emerging from your research.

This work is original in [specific aspects or contributions], as it builds upon existing literature and presents novel findings or approaches. While others may have explored related topics or methodologies, the unique combination of [key elements or innovations] distinguishes this research from previous efforts.

10. What benefit does this research provide to society?

When discussing the benefit of your research to society, emphasize your clear and defined goal. Articulate how your research can impact society at large and how it can be utilized or adapted by other researchers working on similar issues.

When discussing the benefit of my research to society, I emphasize a clear and defined goal. My research aims to [specific goal or objective, such as improving healthcare outcomes, addressing environmental challenges, enhancing technological advancements, etc.]. This benefit is significant as it can [describe how the research can positively impact society at large, such as improving quality of life, advancing knowledge, solving practical problems, etc.]. Additionally, my research findings can be utilized or adapted by other researchers working on similar issues, further amplifying its societal impact and relevance.

11. What are the limitations of your research design?

When discussing limitations in your research design during your viva, acknowledge that every design has its constraints. Be transparent about these limitations and explain how you mitigated or addressed them in your study. If your design was particularly good, highlight how it contributed to your results. Conversely, if aspects of your study didn’t go as planned, use this as evidence to analyze potential flaws in your hypothesis.

Some limitations of my research design include [specific limitations, such as sample size constraints, data collection methods, potential biases, etc.]. While these limitations are inherent in any research design, I took several steps to mitigate their impact. For example, I [explain strategies used to address limitations, such as ensuring diverse sample representation, using validated measurement tools, implementing data analysis techniques, etc.]. These efforts aimed to enhance the validity and reliability of my study findings despite the identified limitations.

12. How might your research have been impacted if there were more data available on your topic?

To answer this question, start off by conveying to the panel any limitations found within your research. This is because it allows you to discuss whether additional research would have either prevented or minimised this outcome. For example, you might decide to tell the panel that additional data relevant to the research topic may have been beneficial because then you could test the hypothesis again by running the same tests in other communities. Then you could see if the result was the same with a different audience. Though, this may have resulted in a changed hypothesis.

If more data were available on my research topic, it would have significantly impacted the depth of my study. Firstly, a larger dataset would have allowed for more comprehensive analyses, such as subgroup analyses and advanced statistical modeling techniques. This could have led to more robust findings and a better understanding of the nuances within the data.

Additionally, with more data points, I could have explored additional variables or factors that may influence the outcomes studied in my research. This could have provided a more holistic view of the topic and allowed for a more nuanced interpretation of the results.

Furthermore, more data availability would have increased the statistical power of my study, potentially leading to more reliable and conclusive results. It would have also allowed for a more extensive validation of findings through cross-validation exercises and sensitivity analyses.

Overall, the availability of more data would have enhanced the quality, reliability, and generalizability of my research outcomes, contributing to a more comprehensive understanding of the topic.

13. Has your research challenged or changed how we think about the topic?

To address this question effectively, begin by outlining any constraints identified within your research. This approach enables a discussion on whether further research could have mitigated or avoided these limitations.

For instance, you could mention that having more relevant data on the research topic could have been advantageous. This additional data might have allowed you to retest the hypothesis across diverse communities, potentially leading to variations in results. However, it’s important to note that this could have also led to modifications in the hypothesis itself.

My research has challenged existing perceptions by uncovering previously unexplored facets of the topic. Specifically, I focused on [mention specific concept or theory] and conducted [briefly describe your study]. The results revealed [key findings or insights], which have prompted a reevaluation of [mention the paradigm or conventional understanding]. This shift in perspective has significant implications for [explain the broader impact on the field or applications of the research]. Overall, my research has contributed to a nuanced understanding of the topic and has initiated discussions on revising established frameworks in the academic discourse.

14. Do you think other researchers could replicate the results of your study?

The viva panel considers if other researchers can duplicate your findings to determine the credibility of your research within the field. To address this, consider the distinctiveness of your study compared to previous ones. If you identify unique aspects, explain how they facilitate easier replication by other researchers.

Yes, I believe other researchers would be able to replicate my results. The methodology used in my study is well-documented and follows established protocols, ensuring clarity and consistency in data collection and analysis. Additionally, the unique aspects of my research are clearly outlined, making it easier for others to understand and replicate key elements. Sharing relevant data and resources further enhances the feasibility of replication and promotes transparency in the research process.

15. Could there be other explanations for the results of your research?

This question is a method for the viva examiners to assess your ability to critically evaluate your own research. Begin by conducting a thorough review of the existing literature to identify any alternative explanations for your research findings. If such alternative explanations exist, explain them in detail. On the other hand, if there are no alternative explanations or they are not relevant to your findings, clarify why this is the case. It’s crucial to demonstrate consideration for these alternative perspectives as they contribute to the overall understanding of why your findings are significant.

In my research, I thoroughly examined the existing literature to explore potential alternative explanations for the findings. While there were some theories suggesting alternative interpretations, such as [mention specific theories], further analysis and empirical evidence indicated that these explanations were not as substantiated or relevant to my study’s context.

For instance, [provide an example or detail about why alternative explanations were not applicable]. This analysis supports the robustness and specificity of my findings, as they align with established theories and empirical evidence within the field.

Overall, my research process involved a critical evaluation of potential alternative explanations, ensuring that the conclusions drawn are well-supported and contribute meaningfully to the existing body of knowledge on the topic.

16. Given your research findings, what would be an appropriate course of action for another researcher to pursue in this field?

Consider the type of research you’re conducting as you address this question. Review your completed research and its conclusions to assess their alignment with the hypothesis. Identify any gaps in your research, explain their presence and significance, and discuss what they indicate. Utilize these gaps as a basis for further investigation, outlining your next steps as a student exploring these areas of study.

Based on the findings of my research, a suitable next step for other researchers in this area would be to conduct further investigations into [specific aspect or aspect]. This could involve [suggest a research direction or methodology], which would help to [describe the potential contribution or impact]. Additionally, exploring [related topic or factor] could provide valuable insights into [describe potential outcomes or implications]. Overall, building upon this research could lead to a deeper understanding of [topic or field], benefiting both academia and practical applications.

17. Summarize your thesis.

Familiarize yourself with the entire project, beginning with the rationale behind selecting your thesis topic and concluding with an optimal solution to the problem. Prepare for three types of responses: a 1-minute, 3-5 minutes, and 10-minute summary. Tailor your answer based on the audience’s expectations at the viva.

For the 1-minute summary:

“I chose the topic of my thesis because it addresses a critical gap in the literature and has significant relevance in [specific field]. The problem at hand is [briefly describe the problem]. Through extensive research, I identified key areas for investigation, including [mention key areas]. The optimum solution to this problem involves [briefly outline the solution or approach].”

For the 3-5 minutes summary:

“My thesis topic was carefully selected due to its relevance in [specific field]. The problem I aimed to address is [provide a brief overview of the problem]. This topic intrigued me because [explain why it interested you]. Through thorough research and analysis, I identified several key areas that required exploration, including [list key areas]. The optimal solution to this problem involves [describe the solution or approach in more detail, including any methodologies used].”

For the 10-minute summary:

“The topic of my thesis was chosen based on its critical importance in [specific field]. The problem I sought to tackle is [provide a comprehensive overview of the problem, including its significance]. I was drawn to this topic because [explain your personal interest or motivation]. To address this problem effectively, I conducted extensive literature reviews, data collection, and analysis, focusing on key areas such as [list key areas]. The optimal solution I propose involves [describe the solution or approach in detail, including any innovative methodologies or findings]. This solution not only addresses the immediate problem but also has broader implications for [mention broader implications or potential applications].”

18. What are the research’s strengths and weaknesses?

When discussing your research during a viva examination, it’s important to highlight both its strengths and weaknesses. Begin by emphasizing the strengths and how they connect with key findings, showcasing the robustness of your research. Then, address the limitations and discuss potential strategies to transform them into strengths in future research endeavors. This approach demonstrates a comprehensive understanding of your research and your ability to critically evaluate and improve upon its weaknesses.

The strength of my research lies in its comprehensive analysis of [specific aspect], which has led to significant insights into [key findings or contributions]. This strength is further bolstered by [mention additional strengths, such as methodology, data collection, etc.].

On the other hand, a potential weakness of my research is [identify a weakness, such as sample size limitations, data availability, etc.]. However, this limitation has provided opportunities for future research to explore [potential areas of improvement or expansion].

Overall, the strength of my research lies in its [highlight key strengths], while the weakness serves as a stepping stone for further advancements in the field.

Other articles

Please read through some of our other articles with examples and explanations if you’d like to learn more.

  • PLS-SEM model
  • Principal Components Analysis
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Friedman Test
  • Chi-Square Test (Χ²)
  • Effect Size
  • Critical Values in Statistics
  • Statistical Analysis
  • Calculate the Sample Size for Randomized Controlled Trials
  • Covariate in Statistics
  • Avoid Common Mistakes in Statistics
  • Standard Deviation
  • Derivatives & Formulas
  • Build a PLS-SEM model using AMOS
  • Principal Components Analysis using SPSS
  • Statistical Tools
  • Type I vs Type II error
  • Descriptive and Inferential Statistics
  • Microsoft Excel and SPSS
  • One-tailed and Two-tailed Test
  • Parametric and Non-Parametric Test

Citation Styles

  • APA Reference Page
  • MLA Citations
  • Chicago Style Format
  • “et al.” in APA, MLA, and Chicago Style
  • Do All References in a Reference List Need to Be Cited in Text?

Comparision

  • Independent vs. Dependent Variable – MIM Learnovate
  • Research Article and Research Paper
  • Proposition and Hypothesis
  • Principal Component Analysis and Partial Least Squares
  • Academic Research vs Industry Research
  • Clinical Research vs Lab Research
  • Research Lab and Hospital Lab
  • Thesis Statement and Research Question
  • Quantitative Researchers vs. Quantitative Traders
  • Premise, Hypothesis and Supposition
  • Survey Vs Experiment
  • Hypothesis and Theory
  • Independent vs. Dependent Variable
  • APA vs. MLA
  • Ghost Authorship vs. Gift Authorship
  • Basic and Applied Research
  • Cross-Sectional vs Longitudinal Studies
  • Survey vs Questionnaire
  • Open Ended vs Closed Ended Questions
  • Experimental and Non-Experimental Research
  • Inductive vs Deductive Approach
  • Null and Alternative Hypothesis
  • Reliability vs Validity
  • Population vs Sample
  • Conceptual Framework and Theoretical Framework
  • Bibliography and Reference
  • Stratified vs Cluster Sampling
  • Sampling Error vs Sampling Bias
  • Internal Validity vs External Validity
  • Full-Scale, Laboratory-Scale and Pilot-Scale Studies
  • Plagiarism and Paraphrasing
  • Research Methodology Vs. Research Method
  • Mediator and Moderator
  •   Dissertation Topic
  • Thesis Statement
  • Research Proposal
  • Research Questions
  • Research Problem
  • Research Gap
  • Types of Research Gaps
  • Operationalization of Variables
  • Literature Review
  • Research Hypothesis
  • Questionnaire
  • Reliability
  • Measurement of Scale
  • Sampling Techniques
  • Acknowledgements
  • Research Methods
  • Quantitative Research
  • Qualitative Research
  • Case Study Research
  • Survey Research
  • Conclusive Research
  • Descriptive Research
  • Cross-Sectional Research
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Conceptual Framework
  • Triangulation
  • Grounded Theory
  • Quasi-Experimental Design
  • Mixed Method
  • Correlational Research
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Stratified Sampling
  • Ethnography
  • Ghost Authorship
  • Secondary Data Collection
  • Primary Data Collection
  • Ex-Post-Facto

phd viva questions

Misbah Rashid, an expert in Technology Management, holds an MBA and an MS in Information Systems and Technology Management. She has experience teaching marketing and technology in business at the university level.

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The PhD Proofreaders

Prepare for your viva. One question at a time.

Prepare answers to the most common phd viva questions with this interactive template. it’s free to download and it’s yours to keep forever. , the easiest way to prepare for your viva.

Our free PhD Viva Questions template lets you familiarise yourself with the most common questions. It’s been designed in collaboration with Professor Peter Smith, author of Palgrave’s  The PhD Viva. 

The template is interactive and editable, meaning you can fully prepare model answers in advance of the big day. 

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Defending your doctoral thesis: the PhD viva

Format for defending a doctoral thesis.

Every institution will have specific regulations for the thesis defence. In some countries or institutions, the convention is for thesis defences to be public events where you will give a lecture explaining your research, followed by a discussion with a panel of examiners (opponents). Both your examiners and the audience are able to ask questions.

In other countries, including the UK, the oral examination is usually conducted behind closed doors by at least two examiners, usually with at least one being from another institution (external examiner) and an expert in your topic of research. In the UK the supervisor does not participate in the viva, but may be allowed to observe. Sometimes someone from your own institution is appointed as an independent chair. Although it is now becoming more common for the candidate to have an opportunity to give a public lecture in UK institutions, this does not form part of the examination and may or may not be attended by the examiners.

Viva preparation

Take the preparation for your viva seriously and devote a substantial amount of time to it. The viva preparation checklist may be useful to help you prepare.

Your institution may offer courses on viva preparation and there may be opportunities to organise a practice viva. Take advantage of these opportunities: they can be extremely valuable experiences.

Things you may wish to take with you

  • your thesis – mildly annotated if you wish
  • a list of questions that you might be asked and your planned responses
  • any questions that you want to ask your examiners
  • additional notes which you have made during your revision
  • list of minor corrections that you have come across during your revision.

During the viva

Your study will have strengths and weaknesses: it is essential that you are prepared to discuss both. You could think of any weaknesses as an opportunity to demonstrate your skill at critical appraisal. Examiners will seek to find and discuss weaknesses in all theses. Do not interpret criticism as indication of a possible negative outcome.

Examiners have different personalities, styles and levels of experience. Sometimes a candidate may feel that a challenge is made in a confrontational way. Experienced, effective examiners will not be inappropriately confrontational, but some will. Do not take offence. A relaxed, thoughtful, and non-confrontational response from you will help re-balance the discussion. Having an independent chair can help maintain a constructive environment.

Useful tips for during your viva:

  • Ask for clarification of ambiguous questions or ask for the question to be repeated if necessary
  • Take time to think before answering
  • Be prepared to ask questions and enter into a dialogue with your examiners
  • Be prepared to discuss your research in context of other work done in your field
  • Be ready to admit if you don't know the answer to a question
  • Be prepared to express opinions of your own

You are not expected to have perfect recall of your thesis and everything that you have read and done. If you get flustered, or need to refer to notes your examiners will understand. They have been in your situation themselves!

After your viva

There are several possible outcomes   of a thesis defence. Most commonly, your examiners will recommend to your institution that you are awarded your degree subject to minor corrections, although in some instances they might ask for more substantial work.

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Viva examinations: guidance

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This guidance explains the viva process, how to prepare, what will happen on the day and what the possible outcomes are.

This information is for postgraduate research students. It covers:

  • before your viva
  • preparing for your viva
  • during your viva
  • outcomes of the examination

Before your viva

Entry forms.

You must enter the exam via Portico about four months before you are ready to submit. You may not submit your thesis until you have entered for the examination and your examination may be delayed if you have not done this.  

Find out more about examination entry

Your supervisor is responsible for arranging the appointment of your examiners. This should be done at the same time as you complete your examination entry form, four months before you are due to submit your thesis. Examiners are appointed by UCL for their professional services as examiners with expert subject knowledge. A minimum of two examiners, one from outside UCL and (normally) one from UCL are appointed to co-examine all research degree candidates. The examiner nomination form can be found here .

Submit your thesis

Find out more about formatting, binding and submitting your thesis.

Collaborative research projects

If you are contributing to a collaborative research project you must include this information in the introduction to the thesis. You must clearly identify the demarcation between the research you are submitting for examination as an original contribution to knowledge and the work of your collaborators. 

Viva arrangements

Your supervisor (or nominee) will liaise with you and your examiners to arrange and confirm a mutually convenient time and place to hold the viva examination. The viva must not be arranged before the examiners are formally appointed by UCL. It may take place at UCL, or remotely. Your examiners should have your thesis at least six working weeks before the viva and you will receive an email once the thesis has been sent to the examiners. At this point, you will be able to record the viva via the ‘Research Student Administration’ section in Portico. A user guide is available with step-by-step instructions for submitting this information. Your viva should then take place within three months of the dispatch of the thesis to your examiners.

Download the viva notification user guide

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Reasonable adjustments

If you or one of your examiners have a disability which UCL cannot accommodate, other reasonable arrangements can be made for the viva. You must make a request in writing when you complete the examination entry form to allow time for arrangements to be made. 

Preparing for your viva

We recommend that you re-read your thesis. Try to anticipate questions, comments and criticisms, and think how you would respond. Although you may not be able to anticipate actual questions to be asked by the examiners, this approach will encourage you to think actively about your work.   You should also refresh your memory of the relevant literature. Do not attempt to re-read every paper in the bibliography of your thesis; instead, re-read carefully some of the more recent key references. If you have left university after submitting your thesis you may be unaware of very recent work. Ask your supervisor a couple of weeks before the viva whether any work of direct relevance to your thesis has been published since you submitted your thesis.

You must not contact your examiners directly at any point leading up to the viva or afterwards.  All contact should be done by your supervisor or other relevant departmental staff member.  

A good way to prepare for your viva is to practice. Your supervisor should give you a mock viva, or arrange for this to be undertaken by a member of your upgrade panel.  

During your viva

A viva is an academic interview at which your examiners will be looking for an understanding of the subject matter of your thesis, an appreciation of its significance to established knowledge in the field, and an awareness of the breadth of the subject area. 

Your supervisor will be invited to attend your viva examination, unless you request otherwise; you must indicate this on your examination entry form. Your supervisor does not have the right to participate in the viva examination but may contribute if invited to do so by the examiners.  

The examiners will expect you to:

  • show a critical analysis of your own work and of that of others
  • appreciate the limitations of the methods employed and the results obtained by yourself and others
  • understand how the broad conclusions of your thesis support, add to or conflict with previous work
  • know the major concepts and recent developments in your subject

There is no formal procedure laid down for the conduct of the viva examination. Some examiners prefer to work through the thesis in the order in which it is written. Other examiners prefer to discuss topics. Very few examiners will perform a page by page criticism. You may be asked to prepare a presentation of your work in a suitable format.  

You are not expected to know your thesis by heart, but to refer to the appropriate page when the examiners wish to discuss a specific point. Please ensure that you bring to the viva examination a copy of your thesis paginated in the same way as the copies you have submitted to the Research Degree Examinations Office.

You should not simply answer 'yes' or 'no' to questions nor give a prepared exposition. Try to answer the question as it is put, remembering that you are engaged in an academic conversation.

Be prepared to justify your ideas and conclusions. If the examiners challenge your interpretation but you feel that your case is a good one, muster your arguments and be willing to present your case firmly but courteously. However, if the examiners have identified a genuine weakness, concede the point gracefully. Even if you feel the examiners are unreasonably critical do not become argumentative or allow the discussion to become heated. You can agree to differ and to reconsider the point. All participants in the viva must abide by UCL's Bullying and Harassment Policy . If you make any comments to your examiners which put them under moral pressure, for example alluding to what will happen if they fail you, or if you offer any incentive to your examiners to pass you, they must terminate the examination and report to the Chair of the Research Degrees Committee via Research Degrees in Student and Registry Services.

Outcome of the examination

The following are the three most often received results and the subsequent procedures.

We will email you with reports from your examiners, copied to your supervisor, instructing you to submit the following documents:

  • the electronic copy of your thesis 
  • thesis deposit agreement form (uploaded with the e-thesis)

We will award your degree once you have met the academic conditions, the Library have confirmed receipt of your e-thesis and the Deposit Agreement form, and you have cleared any outstanding fees. 

The electronic copy of your thesis and thesis deposit agreement form should be deposited to the Library via UCL's Research Publications Service. Please make sure that you remove, or blank out, all personal identifiers such as signatures, addresses and telephone numbers from the e-thesis. Any photographs that you have taken should not show identifiable individuals without their permission and any you have taken of children should mask their faces. If you have any queries regarding this aspect of the process, please contact the Library directly.

UCL no longer requires a printed copy of your final thesis. If you do wish to deposit a hard copy you can do so by sending it directly to the Cataloguing & Metadata department of Library Services by post, or in person at the Main Library help desk.  You will find more information about the process on the existing webpage for e-thesis submission. 

Find out more about depositing an electronic and printed copy of your thesis

Once you have submitted these, we will send an email containing the confirmation of award and your reports to your email address you have recorded on Portico. The degree certificate will follow approximately four months after the official award date.

In the case of an examination for specialist doctorates (including the EngD, EdD and MPhilStud), the award of the degree is also conditional upon students passing all taught elements of their programme of study. The modules should be entered on to Portico by the Department and confirmation these elements have been completed will be passed from the Examinations Department to Research Degrees.

Minor corrections

This is by far the most common result received from the examiners. 

We will email you with reports from your examiners, copied to your supervisor and Faculty Graduate Tutor. The deadline to submit your corrections officially starts from the date of this email, which will also indicate the name of the person designated to check your corrections. This deadline is for you to submit the corrections to the designated checker, and not to submit the final copy of your thesis.

Your examiners may have returned an annotated copy of your thesis to you and therefore you may already be aware of the work required. The designated checker should inform you of the format he/she expects to receive the corrections, although normally this will be in electronic format.

The designated checker should confirm the outcome of the examination within one month of receipt of the minor corrections to the thesis. This is usually done by sending an email directly to Research Degrees.

Once this has been received we will follow the procedure for a pass result.

Resubmission in a revised form

We will email you with reports from your examiners, copied to your supervisor, Departmental Graduate Tutor and Faculty Graduate Tutor. The 12 or 18 month deadline officially starts from the date of this email.

Unlike the outcome for minor corrections, where one person checks the amendments, the resubmission requires you to re-enter for the examination and submit two copies of your thesis for forwarding to the examiners. 

Your examiners may have returned an annotated copy of your thesis to you and therefore you may already be aware of the work required. 

Once you have completed the corrections, you will need to:

  • submit a new exam entry form to Research Degrees at least two weeks prior to the expected submission of the thesis
  • submit an electronic copy of your thesis to Research Degrees via the UCL Dropbox.  

Find out more about formatting, binding and submitting your thesis. Your supervisor will be emailed to confirm that the examiners are still willing to act and provide their current contact details. This is to avoid the thesis from being sent out incorrectly. We will then send an email to your supervisor and examiners reconfirming their appointment and send the thesis to them via the UCL Dropbox.

If the examiners have requested a second viva, your supervisor will arrange this. In these circumstances, the procedure will follow that of a typical research degree examination.

If a further viva is not required, your examiners are only required to submit a joint report. They cannot award another 18 month resubmission, but can allow minor corrections.

Once the reports are received we will follow the procedure for either the pass or minor corrections result.

Other results

If the result falls outside the above descriptions, we will email you detailing the procedure you will need to follow.

Related content

  • Research degrees: examination entry
  • Format, bind and submit your thesis
  • Doctoral school

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